Thanks to Julia Odgers from kidstravel2 for this fab guest post and personal story

Before having children I had a senior role as a Marketing Communications Manager reporting into the board of directors & worked long hours.  A stimulating career was always important to me but I knew when I had children I didn’t want my working life to carry on like this or I would miss their childhoods!  We relocated to Dorset when I was on maternity leave with my son and I knew that when I went back to work I wanted to do something different but which built on my previous skills acquired in publishing, online marketing and which critically enabled me to achieve that ever elusive work life balance. 

I set up as a freelance web design and marketing consultant, taking on small projects that enabled me to work in the evening and around my son’s sleep times.   I would help business startups or small businesses set up online and develop a marketing strategy for them, KidsTravel2 (www.kidstravel2.com) being one of them.   

These early times were hairy financially – I worked out I had to generate a certain amount of income a month for my working in this way to be financially viable.  I was only able to work 1 and a half days a week when I had the support of my parents in law so the rest of the time working was during my ‘free’ time ie children’s sleep times and evenings.  At times I really felt like the clock was ticking before I was ousted back into the rat race and my son committed to child care. 
 
I then had the opportunity to buy KidsTravel2 and haven’t looked back.
 
KidsTravel2 was originally established in 2006 by a lady called Gervase Walton but I was heavily involved in the development of the business from the early days.  In the summer of 2007 she contacted me for help to give her start up a much needed boost.  She wanted to improve her rankings in the search engines, get more traffic to the website and ultimately increase sales.  I helped Gervase over the next 6 months or so with improving the usability of the website and recommended a complete marketing strategy to her.  Much of this I followed through to implementation including setting up a mailing list and running several promotions.  We achieved (and still hold) page 1 positions on Google for important keywords like childrens luggage and kids luggage.
 
After the birth of my daughter I returned to my freelancing but found myself increasingly wanting to get more involved with the businesses and take things further – something you can’t always do as a consultant! I had started to mull over the idea of setting up my own online business to enable me to do this. It had to be something that I was passionate about and that could fit around my family life.  Then, it was while doing some last minute Christmas shopping for my son that my path crossed with KidsTravel2 again.  I dropped them a friendly hello while ordering something from the website. Gervase got back to me and told me she was hanging up her travelling boots and moving onto pastures new, having decided that online retail wasn’t for her. ‘Oh no, what a shame!’, I said, ‘ and what will happen to KidsTravel2?’.  A few conversations later and I became the owner of a fun monkey travel neck pillow and KidsTravel2! 
 
The investment was buying the limited amount of stock remaining, which I did with the earnings from my freelance work.  Since then I have grown the business organically using my gut instinct, talking to customers and by analysing sales figures / website traffic to invest in new stock and build up trading partnerships with key suppliers.
 
2009 was a steep learning curve.  Our office/working conditions were storage in the loft, and my husband and I wrapping/packing on the lounge floor after the kids had gone to bed!  I would run the orders to the post office at some point during the day to fit around the children’s timetables of pre-school, sleep and school.  As the business grew this became untenable.  I look back and don’t know how we made it through Christmas last year we were so busy.  We had trebled turnover on the previous year.  By New Year 2010 the business was literally taking over our house – something had to give.  I bit the bullet and we outsourced all warehousing and fulfilment leaving me free to concentrate on developing and marketing the business.  So far this year we have exceeded all targets again and turnover is 50% up again on last year.
 
My top 10 tips on setting up your own business on a budget:
 
1.  Remember that starting your own business doesn’t necessarily have to be about doing something different to everyone else, just striving to do it better.  I spent a long time racking my brains trying to ‘invent’ a new product or service, thinking this was the only way to set up and run my own business successfully.  I have since realised that aiming to be the best at what you do is what will set you apart and bring you success.
 
2.  If you know you want to do something but are not sure what then join forums, support groups and network with others wherever and whenever you can to absorb information and find out about all the different options out there.  There are plenty of franchises, party plan business models and even people seeking partners or selling businesses as going concerns. 
 
3.  Take an objective look at your skillset – what are you really good at?  Ask your friends and family.  What do you enjoy doing?  See this as an opportunity to explore setting up in an area that enables you to employ your best skills and do something that you will really enjoy.
 
4.  Don’t be daunted about the prospect of writing a business plan.  As a starting point just write down in your own words what it is you would like your business to be about and what it is that will set you apart from the competition, if there is any, in the market place.  Next book a free session with your local business link adviser and take it from there.
 
5.  It is possible to develop a business with minimal investment and minimal financial risk by choosing product wisely (if this is the basis for your business) & growing organically.  As you grow you can build up trading accounts with suppliers and have more credit flexibility, enabling more growth. 
 
6.  Keep focused on your goals.  I try really hard to balance work and family life and remind myself constantly that it is important I do this as this was my primary objective for going down this route.  I could work more hours, but then I would have to pay for childcare and miss out on bringing up my children.  I choose not to and cut my cloth accordingly.
 
7.  Teach yourself – what you don’t know you can learn!  Or find someone who can show you how.  Trade skills!  You have to have a ‘can do’ attitude and be prepared to overcome obstacles.
 
8.  Free consultancy – seek out input from others – you may want set up by yourself because you want to be your own boss but the input from others can be invaluable, help develop and grow your business and stop you from getting stuck in a rut.
 
9.  Don’t feel that you have to spend huge amounts on marketing and PR – there is stacks of stuff you can do for free that will help raise awareness and promote your product eg facebook, twitter, blogs, coverage through local press.
 
10. Give freely – I have often found that giving things away be it advice, support or actual product can reap reward for your business eg product giveaways can help raise awareness of a new business, generate free PR and get prospects engaged with your brand.  The cost to the business of giving away a free widget can be minimal (cheaper than a glossy ad!) but the rewards reaped from such a promotion much better.
 
If you’re looking to set up a business on a budget good luck and hope you found some of this advice useful.
 
Julia Odgers
http://www.kidstravel2.com
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